20 Quebec groups urge Israel boycott

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JANICE ARNOLD - Staff Reporter | The Canadian Jewish News | 5 January 2005

Twenty Quebec organizations, including the Fédération des Femmes du Québec (FFQ) and the provincial union of CEGEP teachers, have endorsed a new campaign to boycott Israeli products and companies deemed to be supporting the Jewish state’s “apartheid politics.” They are protesting Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian territory, the security fence and alleged violations of international law. Jewish community officials did not react and, in fact, were not aware of the campaign at first, because its launch received no mainstream media coverage. “I think that’s the most eloquent statement – that there was no media coverage. I would call that a catastrophic failure,” said Sara Saber-Freedman, the Montreal-based chief executive officer of the Canada-Israel Committee. She doubts the campaign will have a practical impact or generate sympathy among the Quebec public. “While not minimizing the seriousness, my sense is [boycotts] tend not to get much traction. There have been attempts like this in the past and they have settled down… Nevertheless, it is deplorable, reprehensible and wrong-headed… There is no question this kind of thing is not good for Israel and has to be countered.” FFQ president Michèle Asselin and actress/singer Carmen Ferlan, president of Les Artistes pour la Paix, were among the speakers at a media conference launching the proposed boycott, which is being led by the Coalition pour la Justice et la Paix en Palestine. Also present was Ronald Cameron, president of the Fédération des Enseignantes et Enseignants du Collegial du Québec. Cameron led a delegation of 20 CEGEP teachers who, in October 2004, attended a conference in Ramallah opposing the security fence. Two of the endorsing organizations, Entraide missionaire and SUCO, are well-established, international co-operation groups. Most of the other groups are associated with the Arab or Muslim communities or left-wing causes. The Jewish Alliance Against the Occupation and PAJU (Palestinians and Jews United) have also signed on. The FFQ was founded in 1965 by the late senator Thérèse Casgrain, a pioneer in women’s rights in Canada, who helped secure the vote for women in Quebec in 1940. Sheila Finestone, later a member of Parliament and senator, was the FFQ’s first anglophone president from 1977 to 1980. Today, the FFQ lists 152 women’s groups from across the province as associate organizations. The boycott is initially targeting Israeli wines sold at Société des Alcools du Québec outlets – it has identifi! ed 19 of them – as well as Caterpillar, which makes heavy machinery and other products such as boots, caps, toys and pocket-knives. The organizations allege that Caterpillar has been providing the Israeli army with bulldozers for many years. The campaign also urges divestment in Israel or in companies trading with it, and sanctions, such as ending the free-trade agreement between Canada and Israel. The boycott organizers are distributing a flyer that cites an appeal last July to the international community from more than 170 Palestinian “civil society organizations” to initiate a boycott against Israel similar to that intended to pressure apartheid South Africa. The flyer quotes Desmond Tutu as saying in 2002: “I’ve been very deeply distressed in my visit to the Holy Land; it reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa.” The coalition is inviting individuals, governments, corporations and other non-governmental organiz! ations to join the protest. It is urging all unions get rid of any investments in their pension funds that “contribute – even indirectly – to the prolongation of the Israeli occupation.” Permanent members of the coalition include the province’s major labour federations: the Centrale des Syndicats du Québec (CSQ), the Confédération des Syndicats Nationaux, and the Montreal regional council of the Fédération des Travailleurs et Travailleuses du Québec. In 2002, Jewish community leaders denounced in the strongest terms the CSQ when its president, Monique Richard, along with the coalition, called for a boycott of Israeli products and compared the state to apartheid South Africa because of its treatment of the Palestinians. At the time, the CSQ had 145,000 members, the majority of them working in the education sector and the public service. Leaders of FEDERATION CJA, the Canada-Israel Committee, Canadian Jewish Congress and the Communauté Sépharade du ! Québec recently held a joint press conference where they blasted the move as “a call for abject intolerance, blatant revisionism and terrible injustice.” Israel Consul General Marc Attali deplored the boycott call, but also doubts it will have much impact. “Boycotts and divestments are a shameful attempt to demonize and delegitimize Israel and are insulting to an intelligent person. They have been a total failure elsewhere. “Israel has a great deal to be proud of in its defence of democratic values and human rights, including respect for minorities, in spite of being engaged in a war against terrorism.” Saber-Freedman added: “The unions have a lot on their plate right now. I don’t think this will be high on their list of priorities.” [The Canadian Jewish News 5 January 2006]